Some of you may have to deal with this situation a lot sooner than I have. Ruth is extremely social, just not with strangers or other kids, only us. Up until now. Suddenly, at five, something in her little brain has shifted and it seems, everywhere we go, she is making friends. Never a super outgoing person or having easily made friends myself, this is hard for me. I find myself awash in strange feelings.
Don’t get me wrong, I am super stoked and to say the least very relieved that my daughter is branching out in this way. It couldn’t be better timing with Miles quickly making his debut (two people that I would consider full of voodoo knowledge of such things yesterday told me that I wouldn’t make it to my due date: the checkout lady at the thrift store and an Arabic lady down the street who has seven kids of her own). The heat is finally taken off me a bit. For many years of her life, I wondered if she would EVER be bridging this particular gap. Silly, I know. Humans are social creatures, right? Even ultra reserved and perfectionistic (not a word) ones.
What can I say? All of these steps in growth and development are bitter sweet to a parent who once held the tiny newborn form of this budding person simply and completely. Then, they get older, they get harder to hug and hold, they squirm away from you and before you know it, they are out in the world, making friends that have nothing to do with you. Your relationship with them becomes complicated and foreign and you are constantly trying to figure out what they need from you, who you are to them.
Greg and I decided to do a massive clean up of all of our “tree sperm” that gets dropped all over us at this time of year and we were outside, us sweeping, and the kids riding trikes and playing. Suddenly, a neighbor girl from a couple houses down came walking over and started up playing with Ruth. At first, I thought, “This is cute,” thinking the encounter couldn’t be anything but short-lived, but the girl stayed around, for hours, she and Ruth playing together and talking the entire time, first in the front yard, moving to the backyard and finally into the house, in Ruth’s room, going through her toys together.
I’ve gotten used to being a parent. I’m used to having my attention split always and constantly having my inner monologue interrupted. I’m used to being in charge of the safety of two other people, of their creature comforts, I am used to curbing whining and complaining and rude demands. I am used to playing silly mind-numbing repetitive kids games over and over until I’m that much closer to the nuthouse. What I’m not used to is being someone’s parent that has a friend over. Ruth has never had a friend over, really.
It was as awkward as prom night. I kept finding myself striking ridiculous poses, not knowing where to put my hands (my hips? Too authoritarian. At my sides? Does that make me look lazy?) not knowing where to stand, not knowing if I should hover nearby and partake of their conversation or if I should just let them alone. What was my role? Should I be near in case Ruth needs sticking up for? (the girl was three years older than Ruth and clearly her superior in social settings as well as intellectually in general). Should I go about my business as normal? What WAS my business as normal? Trying to multitask and failing with my two kids nearby and underfoot, that’s what. And without that, both kids were engaged with this neighbor girl, I didn’t know what to do with myself.
Not only that, but I am, as I’ve said before, an introvert, and often find social situations challenging myself and especially having people at my house, my turf, where I feel the most exposed and vulnerable and open to criticism. I can be very choosey about who I invite over and when (when my house isn’t a train wreck, for instance) but, and I’m just realizing this, I can’t be as choosey about who and when and for how long my daughter might have a friend over.
I just found it incredibly awkward to be the parent in this situation. Anyone know what I mean? I didn’t know how to act. What do you do when your kids start to have friends? It’s got me trippin’.